Keep being asked what you want for Christmas? Or maybe you’d just like to treat yourself. No problem: here’s our pick of road-related Christmas treats for 2021.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have no idea what to suggest when people ask what you want for Christmas. And what I never get are roads-related presents. But they are out there, if you know where to look - so, if your Christmas shopping isn’t done yet, here’s some present ideas for the road fan in your life. (Even if the road fan in your life is you… go on, treat yourself.)
Let’s start with some books.
Here at Roads.org.uk we have a fascination with grand plans that never came to be - our extensive coverage of London’s Ringways is testament to that. How about a whole book of such things?
Unbuilt by Christopher Beanland is a very beautiful hardback book full of colour illustrations and fascinating stories of dreams that never became reality. Some are buildings that never made it to construction; others are whole cities, like the never-built Warwickshire new town of Civilia or Albert Speer’s plans to reconstruct Nazi-era Berlin into a new world capital. And many, of course, are transport projects, from the everyday (Sheffield’s original Minitram concept, or the first floor walkways once planned to link up office buildings in Leeds) to the fantastic, like a fixed crossing of the Bering Strait.
And yes, of course, the Ringways are in there too. How could they not be?
Find it wherever you buy your books, RRP £25.
The story of the B1222
Here’s something on an altogether different scale. Rhubarb, Royalty and the Rings of Saturn: The Story of the B1222 by David Lewis places one ordinary and seemingly mundane B-road in Yorkshire under the microscope and finds no end of fascinating history in the towns and villages it connects. It’s a brilliant reminder that, in this tightly packed island, history is part of the everyday, even if we don’t always stop to see it.
Written as a travelogue along the road, the stories are as diverse as you could imagine, from the ancient Celtic kingdom of Elmet to the rise and fall of mining in the Selby coalfield. There’s also an extended discussion of road numbering, signage, and just why exactly this road is the B1222 and not some other number. It’s a great slice of proper local history, told by someone who knows his patch, and worth a read even if you didn’t, like me, grow up just a few miles away.
You can buy it direct from the Little Apple Bookshop, £7.50.
The Great North Road
Everyone knows the A1, and many who use it find it gets under their skin in a way that few other roads ever do. It might be our Route 66. It’s certainly one of the most iconic and fascinating routes in the British Isles.
In The Great North Road: Then and Now, Chris “Wolfie” Cooper tours the road from end to end, tracing its history as a coaching route and a Roman Road, and charting how it’s changed over the years as its course has shifted and its ancient trackways have been rebuilt to cater for the motorway age. It’s beautiful as well as informative, with page after page of archive photos and detailed maps to follow the journey.
Wolfie’s book is required reading for road enthusiasts, but be warned that it might just inspire you to make your own A1 road trip. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s about ten hours’ drive if you want to do St Paul’s Cathedral to Edinburgh’s Waterloo Place in a day. See you in the whisky bar at the Balmoral.
Find it wherever you find your books, including Amazon, Waterstones and WH Smith.
Not looking for a book? Here’s a few other ideas for you.
Pennine Tower cast in concrete
The Pennine Tower at Lancaster (Forton) Services on the M6 is one of the most recognisable landmarks on the UK motorway network. Originally opened in 1965 as a restaurant with expansive views to the Lake District, Blackpool and the Forest of Bowland, it’s been disused since 1989 but remains one of the most remarkable examples of the boundless optimism and excitement that surrounded the opening of the first motorways in the early 1960s.
If concrete follies at motorway services are your thing, then you might like to get your hands on your own miniature version of it.
Spaceplay specialise in art prints and ornaments that celebrate brutalist architecture across the UK, and as part of their collection of miniature sculptures, you could own your own little Pennine Tower - cast in concrete, no less - to show off to your baffled friends and family. It’s an edition of just 200 so don’t wait if you want to get hold of one.
Available direct from Spaceplay, £30.
Liverpool-based art studio Dorothy have a whole collection of beautiful prints in their Lost Destinations series, all celebrating unique and often forgotten landmarks, design icons and brutalist buildings from across the UK, which either go unrecognised or which have even been destroyed.
In amongst famous places like Manchester’s Hacienda nightclub and the twin towers at Wembley (which were, incidentally, designed by Owen Williams, who was also responsible for the concrete bridges gracing the A82 across Glen Coe and the original section of the M1), you’ll find prints of Spaghetti Junction, Stockwell Bus Garage and, yes, the Pennine Tower at Forton Services.
Available direct from Dorothy, £30-£35.
Leeds: Motorway City of the Seventies
As a child of Leeds it would be unforgivable to miss this one out. In one of the less successful attempts at establishing an air of civic pride and purpose, back in the 1970s Leeds adopted the slogan “Leeds: Motorway City of the Seventies”, and had those words included in its postmark, stamping it onto all outgoing mail.
Today it sounds like the most improbable slogan imaginable, but it also says something about how motorways were perceived in their early years, how northern cities desperate to find a future beyond their grimy industrial roots pinned their hopes on regeneration plans that were heavy on plate glass and concrete, and how much the associations that go with the word “motorway” have changed in half a century.
If you have a little bit of that nostalgia and fascination for a simpler time, when a “motorway city” was something that might have been a cause for celebration, then you might want to get yourself something featuring Leeds City Council’s decidedly brutal and modern logo from that era. The Modernist are selling just that. The car and window stickers have sold out (though you can sign up to receive an email when they’re back in stock), but the enamel pin badges are even better and are still on sale. Get them while they last.
Buy direct from The Modernist, £8.
Just so you know...
...we don’t receive commission or payback for advertising any of the products above. They’re just our pick of some of the brilliant things on sale this year that will interest anyone who has an interest in the road network. If you think we’ve missed anything that’s a Christmas stocking must-have, then please share it in the comments below.